How To Write A Successful Strategy
Many a much-heralded strategy has remained a well-kept secret, rarely stumbled upon by either staff or customers, let alone any layer of management below the Board. A key responsibility of management is to ensure that the message penetrates at every level.
Ironically the staff dealing with customers must really know what the strategy of their employer is in real terms because this will shape the true image of what the organisation is trying to deliver. Image generates reputation and reputation is gold dust.
If staff cannot translate the strategy into simple workable terms the whole process is doomed to failure and will grind to oblivion in the offices of senior management.
A Mission Statement that could be written by virtually any company and embraced as such will never create a distinctive difference in its performance or daily operations and will never generate a clear gap between your organisation and that of your competitors. Writing a Mission Statement that makes senior management comfortable and feel good will rarely do anything to inspire either employees or customers.
Strategy needs to focus all minds and give a clear sense of direction and purpose, galvanising clear and concerted action going forward. In short, every employee and every customer should be able to see and feel its impact.
So, what Guiding Principles need to be established when developing strategy?
- Make the strategy clear and simple: not an easy taskbut this needs to be right. Distil down the purpose and essentials of the business making it short and to the point. Nobody will read a 5-page epic, let alone understand it, so the goals of the business need to be clear and accessible not just to the staff but to your customers. Winning and retaining customers is an essential task for any organisation so that everyone knows what the organisation stands for. Why is Marks and Spencer and John Lewis known for quality compared to their rival retail chains?
- The strategy needs to be understandable to all employees so they can each make their contribution to it: the Bullet Train in Japan embodies this in that the train arrives precisely on time. It spends exactly 2 minutes on the platform to allow passengers to get on and off. The platform has lines painted on it with reference numbers to where the doors will be so that passengers know exactly where to stand to get onto the train. How does this compare to trains in the UK? The strategy in Japan delivers trains that run on time and trains will run on time.
There is a psychological link between the employer and the employee like that of a parent and child in that appropriate behaviour is set by the parent using a mixture of reward and punishment to achieve goals and outcomes. In the workplace the majority of staff want to feel that they are doing a good job but the first essential for the company is to make it clear what a good job looks like. There are many different examples of this working in practice – delivering a guest’s breakfast at a hotel on time every time clearly identifies that delivery two minutes late is not good enough.
- The company must demonstrate its real commitment to its own strategy: if you operate an airline and you declare that all airplanes must depart on time, regardless of any issues around catering supplies, availability of a full staffing contingent onboard (subject to safe working practices) and connecting flights then everyone will take this drive for punctuality seriously and buy into it. Deliver what you say you will deliver!
- Keep strategic objectives constant: avoid the temptation to continually move the goalposts to suit the moment you are in. Swaying between a commitment to growing market share in year 1 and then moving the focus to reducing costs in year 2 confuses everyone and achieves nothing. We get our act together and start working on something only then for it to change and we must focus upon something new. By keeping a steady focus, we generate organisational learning – if we decide to increase productivity by 9% each year this will create some serious work and effort initially so that in year 1 we might not achieve the target but in year 2 the target will become easier as we will have learned from the process. In a manufacturing context this learning process will cut across production, marketing, sales, procurement and HR because the focus has remained constant, however difficult achieving the target might be. In subsequent years achieving the target becomes more achievable due to previous year’s experiences.
- Dramatic action focuses employee attention on company strategy: making visible changes that have big implications and impact will catch the attention of all employees in the organisation. Simplifying systems and procedures, getting senior managers involved and visible in delivering the strategy are both vitally important in making the strategy work. In HMPS it was decided that Governor Grades would not be allowed to travel First Class or Business Class for any form of travel, previously a long-held entitlement which was abandoned in the drive to fight austerity and tighter public finances. This was a visible statement of the strategic objective tom reduce costs and increase accountability for public spending.
- Sending out strong and clear “new era” signals: making radical changes in operations is a difficult process for some staff and there will be resistance. There is a vital need tosend convincing messages that are truly embarking on change that really does make for a new era. Many employees and managers will adopt the stance of “I’ll believe it when I see it” so the trick here is to make sure that the number of new era signals heavily outweighs the old era signals. Nobody should be in any doubt as to the intention and direction of travel to a new way of getting things done.
- Celebrate the success of the strategy when it happens: get staff involved in the success and recognise that staff are essential in making this happen. Small gifts and recognition go a long way in encouraging and motivating staff to deliver the strategy. What we are looking for here is for staff at every level becoming strong ambassadors of the company, where cooperation in any further company initiatives becomes automatic and enthusiastic.
A common mistake in setting strategy is to confine the approach to a small number of elite staff at the top of the organisation. Every component of the strategy will not concern every employee BUT key elements must be made meaningful and understandable at every level in the business.
The rewards of a deep-seated strategy where everyone knows what is going on can be very satisfying.
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